The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Cuban emigre and infielder Alexander Guerrero this offseason, with a view (it would seem) towards installing him at second base for the 2014 season. Because Guerrero didn’t participate in the most recent World Baseball Classic and because there’s little in the way of other extant footage of him and because there’s only so much his Cuban league stats can tell us — regardless of how responsibly they’re translated — there’s naturally an air of mystery surrounding him. Indeed, Guerrero’s two plate appearances during the Dodgers’ spring-training opener on Wednesday against Arizona were the first which offered competitive footage of him in any sort of broadly available way.
This isn’t a particularly common occurrence, turns out. Almost every prospect of note has both appeared in a number of televised minor-league games and/or been considered closely by means of footage offered by this or that analyst. Players from Japan and Korea — and even Cuba, actually — have typically participated in international tournaments, such that a reasonably engaged fan of the Pastime has had an opportunity to acquaint himself with most players before those same players have recorded their first ever spring-training at-bat.
For Guerrero, that’s less the case. In light of that, his spring-training start yesterday represented the first opportunity for people like the reader — and other (probably sad) people like the author — to acquaint him-/her-/themselves with Alex Guerrero.
What might one learn from Guerrero’s first two plate appearances? Not much conclusively, of course. Still, as a fan of baseball, I personally don’t need much of an invitation to demonstrate enthusiasm for the debut of a heretofore unknown player.
Below is a pitch-by-pitch examination of Guerrero’s first spring-training game. Each pitch is labeled by a decimaled figure, where the first number represents the number of the plate appearance in question; the second number, the pitch of the relevant plate appearance. Each pitch is also accompanied by commentary of a generally useless nature.
This is Brandon McCarthy‘s first pitch to Guerrero, from the second inning. It’s unique insofar as it appears to be either a changeup or a curve that maybe backs up a little — which is to say, not a fastball (i.e. the most common kind of first pitch). Perhaps because it’s an offspeed/breaking pitch or because he’s the sort of batter who regularly takes the first pitch of any plate appearances, even if it’s a strike, Guerrero doesn’t swing.
The second pitch is a fastball — probably a sinker, given McCarthy’s historical pitch tendencies. Despite the fact that said pitch gets quite a lot of the plate, Guerrero takes this one, too. One theory for that: he didn’t think he’d hit it well. A second one: it moved more than he’d anticipated from the outside of the plate. A third: he has no plans to ever swing, even once, in the States.
This is a curve, pretty far from the strike zone. Guerrero takes, unsurprisingly.
This is almost the precise pitch as above in terms of velocity and break, but located much more ably by McCarthy and caught well by Miguel Montero. Once again, Guerrero takes… and strikes out, actually. That’s four total pitches, then, of which three were in the zone. Zero swings by Guerrero.
Now in his second plate appearance, Guerrero faces talented reliever J.J. Putz. Putz’s first pitch is a fastball — neither particularly low nor particularly inside, but a ball. Once again, Guerrero takes. That’s five pitches with zero swings, now.
Putz’s second pitch is also a fastball and also a ball. Guerrero takes this, as well. Perhaps realizing that he’s now refrained from offering at the first six pitches he’s seen in what amounts to his major-league debut, Guerrero is compelled to signal, by means of a head shake, that he’s seen nothing to his liking thus far:
On the seventh pitch to him — a fastball on the outer half of the plate — Guerrero records his first swing, sending the ball into the stands along the first-base line. At 14.3%, Guerrero’s swing rate remains 20 percentage points below the lowest figure among qualified batters from 2013.
Zut frigging alors: a second consecutive swing. This is the fourth fastball thrown by Putz in four pitches, the location of this pitch not entirely different than the second pitch of Guerrero’s at-bat against McCarthy. Guerrero fouls this one off, as well. Some numbers through eight pitches: 25% Swing, 0% SwStrk, 0% O-Swing.
Of note regarding this ninth pitch: J.J. Putz has averaged about a 25% swinging-strike rate on his split-finger fastball over the last three-to-five years. The footage here demonstrates why: the pitch starts in the zone and then more or less disappears. This is probably the most impressive moment of Guerrero’s ten pitches faced, holding up his swing like this against Putz’s splitter. Still a 0% O-Swing through nine pitches.
On his sixth pitch to Guerrero, Putz throws his fifth fastball of the at-bat — in this case, almost exactly through the middle of the strike zone. Guerrero swings for the third time out of the last four pitches, grounding the ball pretty harmlessly to second base. With 10 pitches faced now, Guerrero has a swing rate of 30% (still very low) and a swinging-strike rate of 0%. He does seem to have demonstrated a sense of patience — to the degree that any batter can do so over 10 pitches. Should he continue to produce merely a .000 BABIP, however, his prospects as a major leaguer are rather dim.
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